Franck Sauzee – The Leith Légende

Scottish football doesn’t often see top class talent arrive on its shores but when a player of that ilk does arrive they stand out like a sore thumb.

When Franck Suazee arrived at Easter Road in February 1999. The veteran was no longer playing at his peak but he still played like a man against boys for much of his time in Scotland.

He would instantly command respect within the Hibees dressing room and Frank help secure promotion back into Scotland’s top flight within months of his arrival.

The delightful, defensive player came to Hibs with a stunning CV. Sauzee had enjoyed two successful spells at Olympique Marseille, winning three Ligue 1 titles and the first ever Champions League. In that extraordinary European run; Sauzee would end up as the competition’s joint top scorer (alongside Marco van Basten and Alen Boksic on six goals) sitting just behind Brazilian superstar striker Romario.

The Aubenas native would win 39 caps for Les Bleus, scoring nine times for his nation. He was extremely unlucky not to win more caps, he missed out on the golden period for France in the late 90s as Aime Jacquet decided to phase out most of the older French players in favour of those younger stars that were coming through.

Like so many other great players, Suazee managed to perfect various positions during his career. He was great as a midfielder, was a fine sweeper and a formidable centre-back.

His intelligence was second to none, it was a quality which made him an absolute pleasure to watch.

At Easter Road Frank could often orchestrate things from the backline with tremendous, accurate long range passes or he could transition play by carrying the ball from deeper positions into the oppositions half of the field. He’d often think two or three steps ahead of the opponent and he also possessed the ability to take his teammates with him.

His vast experience and ability to lead made it impossible for Alex McLiesh not to make him captain. He had also held the armband for France and OM during the earlier part of his illustrious career. Sauzee was the ultimate professional and was a hugely positive influence on younger players like Ian Murray, Kenny Miller and Paul Hartley.

The Frenchman was also extremely dangerous when he had a sight of the opposing goal. Scottish goalies would’ve been anxious whenever Hibs had a free-kick at the edge of the box, as Frank could unleash thunderbolts that would rifle straight into the net. He’d also lurk at the edge of penalty areas awaiting any loose balls that would trickle out of the box and into the path of his vicious right foot!

While the super smart and majestic Franck Sauzee could shine with his technical ability, that didn’t stop him from also leaving everything in a challenge. The game in Scotland is known for being tough and frantic but that certainly didn’t intimidate someone of ‘Le God’s’ (a nickname given to him by the Hibs faithful) stature. He didn’t mind leaving a boot in, challenging for every ball and putting his body on the line. The best example of this was when the defender converted a header in a brutal Edinburgh derby clash with Hearts in March 2000. As Sauzee won the header, which looped over a despairing Antti Niemi, his face smashed into the back of an opponent’s head. The resulting blow knocked the sweeper unconscious. He would wake up to discover he had lost a few of his front teeth. The French star might have been dazed but he simply came too, dusted himself down and went on to lead his team to another famous derby victory.

The capital derby day was a bit of a lucky one for big Franck as he never tasted defeat against Hearts; he grabbed a couple of goals in the big Edinburgh encounters and also captained The Hibees to a glorious 6-2 triumph over their biggest foes. The Champions League winner would run the length of Tynecastle to celebrate one of his stunning strikes with the passionate away faithful.

It was clear from the off that he would become an instant fan favourite at Easter Road. Who wouldn’t love seeing a Rolls Royce of a player playing for their team? Leith would often hear a chorus of ‘There’s Only One SUAZEE!‘ echo around the port’s neighbourhood. The fans in the terraces just adored the swaggering, always smiling Frenchman who just played football with an unmatchable panache.

His ability and his passion for Hibs certainly caught the eye of famous Hibernian supporter Irvine Welsh. The Leith born superstar author even dedicated best selling novel to the Giant Gallic gentleman.

Welsh would essentially write a footballing love letter about his Hibs hero, in The Guardian, stating:

The marriage of my team, Hibernian FC, and the French International, Franck Sauzee, was one made in footballing heaven.

At Hibs, his legs may have been heavier than of old, but like all gifted footballers easing into the veteran years, he made up for this with his incredible vision and anticipation.

Striding on to the park like a casual colossus, his presence was simultaneously an inspiration and a calming influence on those around him, both on the field and in the stands.

Irvine Welsh on The Guardian

While I loved watching Frank Suazee, I feel it’s only right to let a true Hibee end this article on the former French internationalist:

‘The European Cup winner in Hibernian’s midst. A gentleman, a genius, a class above.

Hibs were better when Sauzee played. When he moved back to sweeper he gave us weekly lessons in how simple but beautiful football can be. If you’re good enough to make it look easy.

Couldn’t fault his commitment either. The dental disaster suffered in scoring against Hearts. The times he played through injury simply because we needed him.

The goals. The skills. Sublime.’

Tom Hall

Hidetoshi Nakata – The Formative Years

The Greater Tokyo region is massive and it has a population greater than 13 million people deep. It’s easy to get lost in such a dense area or to conform to the noisy reality that comes with living in such built up surroundings. But getting lost in the shuffle or conforming to everyday life has never been the way for one Hidetoshi Nakata

The world of football started to take notice of Japan’s premier footballing competition The J1 League by the 1990s. Illustrious international stars such as Gary Lineker, Dragan Stojkovic, Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci and Careca had arrived on the countries shores to make some extra cash before retirement. In 1995 French boss Arsene Wenger, Brazil World Cup winning captain Dunga and Hugo Maradona (brother to Diego) all arrived to give the J1 League more legitimacy.

During that same year, a slight and almost geeky teenage local burst onto the Japanese football scene. 

Eighteen year old Hidetoshi Nakata arrived at Bellmare Hiratsuka (Now known as Shonan Bellmare) straight from Nirasaki High School. It was a 75 mile car journey to go from his native Kofu to Hiratsuka, a huge commitment for a young man to take as he began life as a professional footballer.

It’s quite probable that the young ‘Hide’ would have taken along a copy of Manga series Captain Tsubasa and its accompanying comic book which detailed the incredible footballing talents of young Japanese boy Tsubasa Oozora, who dreamt of winning the World Cup with his nation’s international soccer team.

Back in the 1980s, during Nakata’s formative years, baseball was the popular team sport that garnered the attention of the Japanese youth. Hidetoshi stated on FIFA TV that he nearly didn’t chase his footballing dreams:

“Actually, I was thinking of playing baseball or football. Then I chose football”.

FIFA TV – Youtube

In that era football only started to grow largely down to Yoichi Takahashi’s anime soccer creation and then it exploded with the influx of foreign stars into the J1 League in the 90s. Nakata, later in his career, would have the honour in starring in the Golden-23 arc of the Captain Tsubasa series. But this earliest of footballing tales shows a uniqueness that would follow Hide’s career. He didn’t follow any templates nor did he search out normal paths.

As a player Nakata was intelligent and like any good Manga book he possessed plenty of imagination and creativity. He was quickly thrust into the first team picture at Bellmare and made the most of his early opportunities. While he struggled to fill out the emerald green and blue striped Bellmare Hiratsuka jersey physically, he was already fitting into the team dynamic and making a difference on the pitch. He was predominantly an attacking midfielder who could find space on the left side, with the number eight proudly covering his lean back. He had a keen eye for goal and would often time his runs forward to perfection. Goals soon followed; he could strike the ball sweetly from just outside of the opposing team’s penalty area or he could tuck away chances after late bursts into the box. Each of his goals would see him produce a huge grin, be surrounded by is appreciative teammates and have his side’s fans celebrate joyously in the stands.

While still very raw and a bit rough around the edges, you could see an exciting young talent was definitely coming out of it’s shell and ready to showcase even more of his talents. Nakata had a nice first touch, a composure under pressure that belied his age and in his debut season with Bellmare he was finding the net regularly.

In truth Hide was a technically gifted young player, who wasn’t scared to put in the hard work. It’s those characteristics we now automatically assume comes with every Japanese player that makes it into their national team or who end up playing in various European leagues. Nakata was a true pioneer that others would follow.

After successfully winning The Emperor’s Cup in the season before Hidetoshi joined, Bellmare found themselves competing in the Asian Cup Winners Cup in late 1995.

In the opening rounds the Japanese side comfortably disposed of Malaysian club Sabah and the Indonesian’s Petrokimia Putra with both ties ending in a 7-1 on aggregate scoreline in favour of the Japanese cup holders. That was soon followed up with a Christmas Day sudden death triumph over fellow J1 League outfit Yokohama Flügels, Brazilian striker Èmerson was the hero that day as he scored all of Bellmare’s goals in a classic 4-3 win. Just two days later the Japanese top flight club would face Iraqi side Al Talaba in the final at the Mitsuzawa Stadium. Al Sabah enjoyed the luxury of having a few extra days off as they were handed a walkover in the semifinal stage after Saudi Arabian side Al-Riydah SC withdrew from the competition. Right sided fullback Akira Narashashi had given Bellmare Hiratsuka a one goal advantage in the 27th minute, which was cancelled out six minutes into the second half by Al Talaba’s Iraqi international forward Sabah Jeayer. As the minutes ticked down, each side were on the lookout for a hero to secure them the illustrious title.

That’s when Hidetoshi Nakata stepped up and announced himself on the biggest stage he had graced so far in his career with the winning goal!

To this day, this is still Bellmare Hiratsuka’s biggest achievement as it is their only triumph away from domestic duties. It was a moment that cemented a young Nakata into the history books of his first club.  At the end of that debut year, Hide had bagged himself a winners medal.

In total the youngster had played in 35 games and had scored ten goals for his new team. Those are quite extraordinary stats for a boy just finishing his first term in the game. He had also played and shone for his national side in the Under 20 World Championships, scoring twice as Japan qualified for the knockout stages (eventually losing out to runners up Brazil in the second round).  Nakata didn’t look out of place in a tournament that also boasted the likes of Raul, Nuno Gomes and Denilson. That tournament in Qatar showed Nakata that he could eventually compete in Europe against the game’s elite. 

Another long campaign followed in 1996.

This time young Hidetoshi competed in 44 fixtures with his club side. It was a pretty up and down season; Bellmare finished in 11th spot in the J1 League, would lose the Asian Super Cup convincingly to the winners of the Asian Club Championship South Korean’s dominant force at the time Ilhwa Chunma (Now known as Seongnam FC) and they also failed to retain the Asian Cup Winners Cup. They faired a bit better in the J1 League Cup, reaching the semi final stage before being crushed by a Fernando Nicolas Oliva inspired Shimizu S-Pulse side who would go on and win the competition. Now even with Bellmare enduring a mixed campaign that season, their precocious attack-minded midfielder had once again shined bright like a diamond in the midst of rubble. 

In 1996, Hidetoshi once again went to an international tournament. This time the United States of America was calling as Nakata made it into the Japanese Olympic football squad bound for the Atlanta games.

They were drawn into a pretty formidable group alongside tournament favourites Brazil, an exciting Nigeria team and European side Hungary.

Many may have fancied the Samurai Blue as being the whipping boys of the group. The Japanese hadn’t seen a squad qualify for the Olympics in the twenty-eight years previous to arriving in the land of the free that summer.

Any idea of Japan just coming to the party to make up the numbers were soon quashed in their opening game against the mighty Seleçâo.

In front of over 45,000 inside the baking hot Orange Bowl in Miami, Japan went into the fixture looking to cause an upset. Nineteen year old Hidetoshi Nakata was as always full of energy in the midfield and looking to push forward whenever he could.

It was the youngster who managed to have the first chance of the match. Ryuji Michiki galloped down the left flank, with Brazil’s chasing player failing to catch him Ryuji would float in an enticing cross with his left boot. Nakata would then steal a march on a sleeping Roberto Carlos at the back post but alas he could not direct his header towards Dida’s goal.

Brazil then started to dominate proceedings as you would expect from a team that boasted the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Bebeto. But the famous men in yellow just couldn’t blow away their tenacious, hardworking opponents.

Then on the 72nd minute a looped ball caused mayhem inside the Brazilian penalty area with the experienced defender Aldair touching the ball beyond his on rushing goalkeeper. Dida then flattened the AS Roma centre-back allowing a grateful Teruyoshi Ito to tap the ball into the empty net. The Japanese players and the team’s backroom staff celebrated wildly, not believing what had just happened.

Brazil would then bombard the Japanese goal for the remainder of the game but Japan’s keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was up to the task in keeping them at bay and when he was finally beaten a man in blue was always on hand to help out with last ditch tackles and a goal-line clearance. Japan would hold on to their slender lead till the final whistle and claim one of their biggest ever international scalps! 

Next up would be Nigeria.

The Super Eagles were further along the road in their bid to be considered a footballing power on the international stage. Nigeria had secured a victory over Hungary in their opening Olympic outing  and their senior side had defeated Japan a year earlier in the Confederations Cup in a 3-0 drubbing.  Sunday Oliseh, Uche Okechukwu, Emmanuel Amunike and Daniel Amokachi all played in that triumph and would also face the Samurai Blue Under-23 side at Florida Citrus Bowl. The Nigerians would also have the exhilarating talents of youthful stars Nwankwo Kanu, Taribo West and Jay-Jay Okocha starting for them against Japan.

In somewhat of a surprise the game ended up being a nervy affair with both sides seeking out a victory that would almost certainly guarantee them a spot in the next round. Nigeria played much of the game in a manner more reminiscent of Japan, they didn’t play with their usual flashy swagger and instead were more workmanlike. It also became a bit of a tetchy duel as the two sides shared five yellow cards between them. Nakata’s endeavour once again couldn’t be faulted but the midfielder couldn’t create that chance to help secure his team that much hoped for three points. As the game went on the Japanese team started to become weary and their legs heavy, that vaunted win over The Seleçâo had taken a hefty toll on their fitness levels.

As Japan started to toll, Nigeria grew in confidence. On the 83rd minute Jef United’s Tadahiro Akiba would inadvertently put the ball into his own goal and hand Nigeria the lead. In the dying minutes, Japanese defender Hideto Suzuki would come under pressure inside his own box. Suzuki would then fall onto the ball, handling it in the process and give Italian referee Pierluigi Collina no option but to point to the spot. Jay-Jay Okocha would calmly step forward and pass his penalty into the bottom lefthand corner. Nigeria would reach the next stage and Nakata’s Japan would have to hope that they could beat Hungary, add some much needed goals to their goals for column and that The Super Eagles would do them a massive favour against Brazil. 

With Japan needing a win plus goals, coach Akira Nishino decided to sacrifice Hidetoshi from his starting eleven and play with three forwards instead of their usual one up-front policy. Nakata wouldn’t step onto the field of play as his teammates did indeed secure a very late history over their once mighty European rivals but the 3-2 scoreline wasn’t enough to see the young Japanese squad progress as Brazil managed to beat the Nigerians.

In the end, Nakata and his U-23 compatriots created a miracle in Miami and ended their group with six points – the same as Nigeria and Brazil. Only goal difference saw them eliminated. To show how strong that group actually was Brazil finished in third place, losing to eventual Gold medal winners Nigeria in the semifinal. Once again Nakata had proven himself on the international stage, a first call-up for the Blue Samurai senior side was surely on the cards in the young player’s immediate future. 

In 1997, Nakata was starting to reach the peak of his powers in his homeland as he was producing majestic performances that had the whole of Asian football talking.

Bellmare had become a swashbuckling free-flowing team. Brazilian forward Wagner Lopes, who would gain Japanese citizenship and represent the Blue Samurai, joined the club and strike up an instant instinctive relationship with Hide. Wagner was an intelligent hitman who was also good in the air. He thrived off of Nakata’s ability to spot an early pass and deliver the perfect ball into areas in which Lopes would be running into.

The hardworking and creative midfielder would also flourish more due to the arrival of South Korean internationalist Hong Myung-bo. The sweeper’s assurance in the backline gave the young Hidetoshi more freedom to get on the ball inside the half of opponents.

Nakata would now hold the number 7 jersey at Bellmare Hiratsuka and was now one of the club’s key components on the pitch as most of the team’s exciting possibilities were going through him. His eye catching passes, his great close control and his willingness to graft and work hard for the team made him a standout performer. While Bellmare Hiratsuka were still struggling to find consistency, they’d finish 8th out of 17 clubs that challenged for the title year,  Hide was consistently shining. He would win the Asian Player of the Month in May 97, be announced in the J League Best XI, named in the AFC All Star Team, win the Japanese equivalent of Sports Personality of the Year and topped it all off with the Asian Footballer of the Year award. 

His fine individual performances for his club that year would see Hidetoshi Nakata start a new adventure with the Japanese national senior side that would put him on the global stage.

Hide would head to France and shine at the 1998 World Cup. His performances that summer didn’t go unnoticed and soon the flame haired talent would be heading to Umbria and help I Grifoni reach mythical new heights in Serie A. 

But that’s a story for another time.

Carlo Ancelotti Could Be Best Manager In Modern Era

People always have their favourites and football fans always love a good debate.

Who is better Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?

When discussing this era’s best manager some will claim it’s Jurgen Klopp, others will be adamant it’s Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte will have his backers, Zinedine Zidane will get a shout, Diego Simeone’s work doesn’t go unnoticed and Jose Mourinho will still have people screaming out his name.

There’s obviously no definitive answer and different metrics will be used to support certain arguments but saying that I will make a case for Carlo Ancelotti.

As a player he played for that famous AC Milan side of the late 80s and early 90s, working under great coaches Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello.

The Italian boss has just returned the La Liga title back into the hands of Real Madrid. That was that last league crown that the sixty-two year old needed to complete the managerial ‘Grand Slam’ in Europe.

By ‘Grand Slam’ I mean he has managed a club in each of the top five leagues (Serie A, Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and La Liga) and secured a top tier title in each of those nations.

That shows us that Carlo can coach anywhere.

In terms of the Champions League, Only Zidane can say he has won the same amount of winners medals as a gaffer in that illustrious competition (each winning it three times). Unlike Zidane though Ancelotti has won it with more than one club, only Mourinho and Jupp Heynckes can say the same since 1993.

Nor can we say that Carlo can only gain limited success before moving on. At Milan he was there for over 400 games in charge. In that time he expertly managed an ageing team and won various trophies.

At Chelsea, the Emilia-Romagna native was the first boss to gain domestic success in the Premier League since the departure of Jose Mourinho in 2007.

He helped PSG win their first title in almost twenty years. Ancelotti was the man who helped give the Ligue 1 giants a sense of respectability amongst the game’s elite, convincing the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to join him in Paris.

When Bayern Munich lost the formidable force that is Pep Guardiola as their manager in 2016, it was Carlo who they turned to and he delivered the Bundesliga in his only full season in Bavaria.

During his career at the eleven clubs he’s bossed at; Carlo Ancelotti’s winning percent rate has only dipped under 50% three times and just once since 1999.

In truth I don’t think Ancelotti gets the credit he deserves.

He’s not as outspoken as a Mourinho and he isn’t as trendy with his tactics/philosophy as a Klopp or a Pep. But his ability to walk into a dressing room and adapt to that situation rather than expect everyone to change for him is admirable in this era.

The Real Madrid boss is a dignified character who commands respect. He’s also loyal and willing to listen to his players.

In his book ‘Quiet Leadership’, Ancelotti states his job is just about managing the team and treating his players like humans. He doesn’t worry about the politics and those that pay his wages as he knows he can’t control those situations.

When you look at the players that he’s worked with and their opinion of him, you’ll see he is loved by those he has guided throughout the years:

He’s like a big teddy bear, he’s really sensitive and is a great guy. He would speak with us every day, but not just with me, with all of the players. He had great fun with us. He’s a great person and my only wish is that every player gets the chance to work with him because he’s such a great guy and a fantastic coach.

Cristiano Ronaldo via Bleacher Report

“He is the only coach I have had who has such an excellent rapport with his players, even more so than Jose Mourinho.”

Zlatan Ibranimovic via Planet Football

“He’s a great coach who likes to play good football and his teams play with real style,”

“He has a good footballing philosophy. I have nothing but good things to say about him, Carlo is a friend, a great person. He’s an outstanding coach, who treats his players well and is well-liked inside the dressing room.”

Andrea Pirlo via Sky Sports

Even now that he has won the La Liga title, Carlo Ancelotti’s job isn’t safe. They have a huge clash with Manchester City in the Champions League to deal with but rumours suggest his time at the Bernabeu could be coming to an end – again! (Source – Sport Bible).

I’d like to think that won’t happen but you can never really know with football these days but if were to be relieved of his duties he should be top of the list of any club or nation worth their salt looking for a world class football manager!

Scottish Football Helping Ukraine

This weekend I filmed a video for Supporters Direct Scotland at Hampden in Glasgow.

We talked with Clark Gillies (The Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal) about various ways Scottish football is helping Ukraine during this difficult time and his love for the country.

Please help if you can!

All Of Europe’s Top Club’s Will Be Watching Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka


Arsenal have had to endure a few nervy contract sagas in recent times and they could find themselves in the same mess again unless they quickly tie down Bukayo Saka to a new long-term deal in the coming months.

The young English international is a superb talent. He’s a player who can play consistently well in a variety of positions; pretty much anywhere on the lefthand side, central midfield and he’s also an attacking threat on the right flank too.

The twenty year old is already becoming a talismanic figure for The Gunners. This term Saka has contributed to his team’s Premier League cause with six goals and four assists.

In total the youngster has just made eighty league appearances and in that time he’s scored twelve goals and created twelve assists.

Nobody in the current Arsenal squad averages more than Saka’s 2.2 shots per game. Only Martin Odegaard beats Bukayo on key passing stats.

Bukayo Saka has also broken into the England team and has fourteen caps and four goals to his name.

Both his international and club managers trust him and think he’s a wonderful player:

“We have been super impressed with Bukayo Saka throughout the month. He was excellent up at Middlesbrough and we have liked him with and without the ball. His receiving tonight under pressure was fantastic.”

Gareth Southgate via

“He’s a really humble boy who’s willing to learn every single day.

“He works really hard and he has an incredible talent. It’s a combination of everything you need to be successful”.

Mikel Arteta via Arseblog

Even though he’s still young, the player has no issues with demanding the ball from teammates and directly attacking opponents with the ball at his feet. He’s such a creative force and always seems to get into dangerous positions inside the opposition’s half. He has that great ability to receive the ball in space in-between the lines on the half turn and can then quickly get up to top speed as he heads to the line or goal.

His close control and dribbling skills will often get the Arsenal faithful up onto their feet in excitement. He’s a very strong player technically and has wonderful vision to create defence splitting passes to unlock tight defences.

From the outside looking in, Saka has a terrific attitude. He seems happy to let his football performances do the talking. He’ll help his side wherever he’s needed but has usually been used on the right under Gunners boss Mikel Arteta. I’d like to see more of him the left and linking up with Kieran Tierney but as he’s so comfortable on either flank, it makes sense to play him on the right as that allows Arteta to play scoring threat Gabriel Martinelli out on the left.

So it goes without saying that Arsenal will want to hang onto Saka for as long as possible as he has the ability and time to develop into a truly world class talent.

They signed him to a new four year deal in 2020 (Source BBC Sport) but that will leave them with a decision to make in the summer if he hasn’t signed a new contract by that time as he’ll be just two years away from that deal running out.

In normal circumstances you’d imagine that the club would gauge if the player is willing to sign a new offer and if he’s not then you’d sell him with two years left on his current deal to get a hefty fee. It becomes more of an option for clubs when you look at the current climate of players actually sitting back and allowing their contracts to run down.

But for Arsenal this is a top performing star player and one who has the potential to become even better in the future. Bukayo has come up through the youth ranks at the club, debuted at seventeen and is loved by the home support. So you’d imagine they’ll do everything within their power to keep him in North London.

The difficulty comes with what the player wants.

A higher wage? Probably, who doesn’t want to be paid more? Especially when you merit that wage increase. But I don’t believe wages will be a motivating factor when it comes to Saka. He’d get a great deal in that regard at The Emirates.

It could come down to what he wants to do in terms of challenging for trophies and fulfilling a dream to play Champions League football.

Arsenal haven’t finished inside the top four in their last six attempts!

The run-in between now and the end of season could be vital in their attempts to keep Buyako Saka at the club. They look like they’ve turned a corner under Arteta but we’ve all thought that before when it comes to The Gunners.

They currently lie in sixth spot but have games in hand over the two sides who are ahead of them in the league table. Win those games in hand and they will be sitting in fourth spot but will probably have Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and West Ham United in hot pursuit. It will be a real test for the squad but it could prove to be make or break when it comes to keeping their talented England star at the club.

Be in no doubt every top European superpower will be watching on and will be considering Buyako Saka as a potential signing as he’s really that good.

It will add even more pressure onto Arsenal’s season but the best teams thrive under pressure and Saka will want to playing with the best and challenging for top honours!

West Ham United Should Have Dropped Kurt Zouma

West Ham United were quick to come out yesterday and condemn (BBC Sport) their centre-half Kurt Zouma after a video emerged showing the defender violently hitting his pet cat.

In the club’s statement they said:

“We have spoken to Kurt and will be dealing with the matter internally, but we would like to make it clear that we in no way condone cruelty towards animals.”

Via Sky Sports News

So it was surprising to see Zouma announced in the Hammers team to face Watford that same evening in a Premier League clash.

Playing him that night, without explaining what if any punishments had been served on the player seemed inappropriate given what they had said earlier in their statement.

Manager David Moyes came out afterwards and defended his decision to play the French internationalist:

“It’s something we’re all disappointed with and something we can’t understand.

“He’ll learn from it [but] today I had to pick a football team that gave me the best chance of winning the game as manager of West Ham.”

“I know how people feel, but I’m also a football manager here.”

Via BBC Sport

In some ways I do actually understand where Moyes is coming from. He’s right it’s a results driven industry and if results falter then it’s usually the manager who has to deal with the harsh consequences.

That being said it’s also the gaffer’s job to make sure that players know that they’re representing the club’s badge and name at all times, even in their own kitchens! If your behaviour doesn’t meet up to the standards expected by the club then you’ll be punished.

It may have been easier on the Hammers boss had fellow central defender Issa Diop not endured a torrid time against Kidderminster Harries in last weekend’s FA Cup tie.

But in truth the decision should’ve been taken out of David Moyes hands. The West Ham board should have suspended the player while a disciplinary meeting was being set up.

Now theoretically you could’ve probably held that disciplinary yesterday afternoon as the player was clearly guilty of bringing the club into disrepute. He was filmed committing the heinous act and he had already admitted his guilt. The PFA have also come out and stated “this type of behaviour is not acceptable” (Source Daily Express). It would then be down to the club to punish Zouma.

Now let’s say they wanted more time to evaluate the case and speak to their lawyers. Really in any other profession, you’d expect the person in question to be suspended from their workplace whilst that deliberation process was taking place.

Personally I’d was expecting West Ham to ban Zouma for at least one game (The one against Watford), fine him a few weeks wages and give that as a donation to an animal charity and order him to take some sort of anger management classes.

By playing the centre-back, I fear the football club have misread the tone of the situation and the reaction to Zouma’s cowardly actions. Fans and the wider community are upset and angry by what’s happened and by the fact he hasn’t been suitably punished (as yet).

Now some people will demand that the twenty-seven year old be sacked. I don’t think West Ham will or should go that far but I do think the RSPCA should definitely investigate the issue and take matters further. In an ideal world I’d also suggest that social services should question the household and make sure that it isn’t a violent environment for the player’s kids.

West Ham United owe it to their fans and their sponsors to show that they understand the feeling of the situation when events like these happen. They should have acted swiftly by punishing the player and by taking him out of the team last night it would’ve shown that club has their finger on the pulse, unfortunately they didn’t do that and they now look uncaring and/or incompetent.

Picture Blog: London Stadium – West Ham United

I popped down to London last week and during my visited I got the chance to visit West Ham United’s home – The London Stadium.

As with all my picture blogs the pictures here are free for anyone to use as long as you ask for permission via email which you can find on the contacts page or via Twitter.

Postecoglou Brings Excitement Times Back To Celtic

It’s funny to look back and think Eddie Howe was the Celtic board’s number one choice to become their new manager last summer.

A lot of time was wasted as The Hoops chased and ultimately failed to persuade the Englishman to move to Glasgow.

Yet after that particular rebuff the club’s hierarchy quickly put their Plan B into place and brought Aussie gaffer Ange Postecoglu to Celtic Park from Japan.

Not much was known about the new boss. He’d had a successful stint in his homeland, he’d done a decent job managing his national side and tasted glory in the J-League with Yokohama F. Marinos.

Upon Ange’s arrival in Scotland, I asked Aussie journalist Dan Colasimone to tell me more about the fifty-six year old.

Dan stated that Postecoglu would come in and insist on his new team playing to his system no matter what and that will get mixed results initially. But if Celtic were to stick with it, then it should bear fruit.

Now my reply was that Ange would be given a shorter honeymoon period at Celtic than at previous clubs, so he’d need to gain positive performances even during that initial bedding in period.

We are now twenty-five games into the Scottish Premiership season and it’s uncanny that everything has kind of worked to the most positive scenario Dan and myself discussed in early June.

Celtic did have some missteps early on in the campaign but they looked an exciting outfit when pushing forward. They’re always pressing whenever they don’t have the ball, they don’t give up and they play an energetic brand of football.

That attacking style is one that the fans in the east end of Glasgow have always appreciated. They watched as their team dropped points and believed that they were on a different path and that things would come good.

Last season under Neil Lennon, Celtic often looked sluggish and void of any creative ideas. There was simply no passion!

Under Ange: Celtic now look fitter, brighter and efficient in every department.

Celtic’s signing policy since Ange’s first day has been pretty on point too. The new signings from Japan; Kyogo Furuhashi, Reo Hatate, Daizem Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi have all impressed thus far.

Kyogo has been in Scotland since the summer and has been fantastic thus far. He makes extremely intelligent runs and he scores clever goals. The forward has scored eight goals in his fourteen league outings.

Hatate has been superb in his first five outings. He’s brought a new energy to the midfield. He has bagged himself three goals and two assists.

Portuguese loanee Jota has been one of the players of the season. He can play on either side and he’s a constant threat. It was a very smart move for Celtic to insert a clause in the deal to sign the twenty-two year old on a permanent basis in the summer (Source The Scotsman).

Celtic have been vastly improved on the flanks. Liel Abada made be more raw than Jota but his stats have been fantastic. scoring nine league goals and creating six assists.

Joe Hart, Cameron Carter-Vicker and Josip Juranovic have all come in and improved the backline.

Matt O’Riley is another talent that has impressed since his January move. He’s got a keen eye for a defence splitting pass and has no issue running his socks off for the team’s cause.

Question marks surrounded Carl Starfelt and Giorgos Giakoumakis early on in their Celtic careers. I’m not sure they’ve totally dispelled those doubts but they’ve certainly started to improve.

The one signing that’s been the biggest let down for me has been that of James McCarthy. The Irish midfielder has never gained true full fitness and that’s hampered his ability to bed into the current team. Although looking at all the signings McCarthy and Hart are the ones I’d suggest Ange had less say when they were being brought to Glasgow.

It’s not just the new boys that have flourished under Ange.

Captain Callum McGregor has found a new lease of life at Parkhead. He’s a player that leads by example!

Anthony Ralston has reinvented himself and Greg Taylor now looks the part too. Celtic accepted a bid for Tom Rogic in 2020, yet he has become a talisman again. While David Turnbull is fast becoming a top class midfielder.

These players just need a new vision to follow and clearly Postecoglu is the Wizard of Oz that can get a tune out of his players.

That nervy initial period seems to be gone now. Celtic have claimed the first piece of silverware this term, they’re currently on a seven game winning streak and have overhauled rivals Rangers and climbed to the Premiership’s summit.

They are playing like champions. A few weeks ago they were struggling to breakdown Dundee United, yet they didn’t give up and grabbed a winner inside injury time.

They dismantled Rangers this midweek in what was being billed as tight affair. It didn’t live up to the billing as Celtic blew the current champions away (BBC Match Report).

I often think that the game after a derby encounter can be a vital one. It’s important for victors to continue on the path of momentum. They need to have the brains to out fox opponents, the courage to keep a good run going and the heart to run all day and break the hearts of opponents. Celtic showed all that and more as they swept into Motherwell and crushed them.

The Celtic faithful have been overjoyed with the exciting football and the positive results that Ange Postecoglu has brought with him to Parkhead.

The manager also understands the support. His words after that triumph over Rangers showed that he gets it:

“We had 60,000 in here. I’m sure a lot walked in with some problems in their lives and for 95 minutes we made them forget that and feel good – and that’s something special.”

Via BBC Sport

Rangers showed today that they’re not ready to give up on their title. This current Celtic side still need to prove that they can handle the pressures of being the league leaders.

But from what we’ve seen do far, I don’t think Ange Postecoglou is a manager that will allow his players to take their foot off the gas or drop their levels. That’s why it’s understandable to see so many Celtic fans optimistic about their club’s future.

Manchester United And The Summer of 2003

The summer of 2003 was a big one for transfer stories and Manchester United were caught up in the three biggest tales of that period.

David Beckham had been a Red Devil his entire career at that point. Having been a success with the club’s youth team, Beckham would make his senior United debut in September 1992.

By the end of May 2003, Becks had made just short of 400 competitive appearances for the English giants. He’d helped the side claim six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and a Champions League.

Yet his time was now up at Old Trafford.

Beckham’s relationship with United manager and his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson had deteriorated to a point that it was obvious that the two couldn’t co-exist together in Manchester. As Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Jaap Stam could testify no player would last long at the club after clashing with Fergie.

A rumoured move to Real Madrid had been talked about for pretty much the whole of the Premier League title run-in during that 2002-03 season. The two clubs would meet in that year’s Champions League with the tie becoming an instant classic!

In the second leg (United trailing 3-1 from the first), Ferguson who was already missing Paul Scholes from his midfield decided to bench Beckham and play attacker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer instead.

A wonderful hat-trick by Ronaldo was enough to finally put Real through but England star Beckham climbed off the bench to grab a brace and give United a 4-3 win on the night.

The fact was that David Beckham had by this time become a global superstar. As well as being a great footballer, he had also become a major celebrity and this clearly annoyed Ferguson, a manager who didn’t want distractions to enter his dressing room.

Earlier in the campaign, after losing an FA Cup tie to Arsenal, Fergie in a rage lashed out and kicked a football boot. The object would fly across the changing room and hit his famous right winger above his left eye. The England international would then appear in most of the tabloids sporting stitches over the wound caused by that fiery incident.

On June 18th 2003, David Beckham was announced as Real Madrid’s new Galactio after penning a four year deal for a fee of £24.5m (Source BBC Sport).

With that transfer done, Manchester United were on the lookout for someone to come in and wow the Old Trafford faithful.

It soon became apparent that Brazilian international forward Ronaldinho was high up on Ferguson’s list of targets.

The gifted player had just completed his second season in Europe, starring for Ligue 1 side PSG. He clearly had talent and was ready to showcase that talent to a wider audience in one of the continent’s bigger leagues.

Those in England had already witnessed Ronaldinho’s brilliance as it was his free-kick that looped over David Seaman and ended England’s hopes at the 2002 World Cup.

With Real purchasing Becks, it seemed they were out of the race for Ronaldinho but that was never a certainty. FC Barcelona were making a lot of noises but had to await the election results of their presidency before making any moves.

The path seemed clear for Man United to swoop in and get the talismanic Ronaldinho.

Weeks of negotiating then ensued as the Red Devils tried to tie the player down:

United would then release a statement:

“Negotiations between Manchester United and Paris St Germain and representatives of Ronaldinho have been ongoing for several weeks. 

“In order to bring talks to a conclusion the club has spoken again to Paris St Germain and the players’ representatives and following our final written offer submitted on Friday morning, we have notified all parties that unless an agreement is reached by 1900CET, Manchester United will withdraw from the process.”

Via SKY Sports

That deadline would come and go without a glimpse of Ronnie in a United jersey.

According to the then twenty-three year old Brazilian a deal was pretty much agreed with United before a last minute call from Barca changed history:

“It almost happened with United,”

“It was a matter of 48 hours, but Sandro Rosell had told me way before I got the offer: ‘If I become Barca president, will you come?’ I said yes.”

“It was only a matter of details with United when Rosell called to say he was going to win the elections there.”

“And I had promised to him that I’d play for Barca. It was a quick negotiation. I told the English I had chosen Barca.”

Source Four Four Two via

On the 20th of July 2003, Ronaldinho became the player who got away as he signed on at the Camp Nou.

David Beckham would become the start of the end of that Galaticos era. While he didn’t win much in the way of silverware; his desire and determination won over the Real Madrid support.

David would stay in Spain for four years and he’d help them to the La Liga title in his final season with the club.

Ronaldinho would become one of the world’s very best players at Barcelona. He changed the clubs fortunes with his skill, assists and goals. He stayed at a year longer than Beckham in Spain but won two league titles, a Champions League and was voted the world’s best player in 2005.

But what of Man United in 2003?

They’d lost a significant first team star in Beckham and had failed in securing top target Ronaldinho. That failed deal to bring in Ronaldinho lasted until mid to late July.

Did United and Sir Alex panic?

Nope. Fergie did what Fergie did best and secured a top prospect and made that prospect a superstar!

Man Utd would travel to Lisbon on August 9th 2003, still void of a new creative spark, to play in a preseason friendly. Boasting a strong line-up that included Fabien Barthez, Nicky Butt, Mikael Silvestre, Paul Scholes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, John O’Shea and Rio Ferdinand United would slump to a 3-1 defeat to Sporting CP.

During that loss, a talented eighteen year old stood out for the Portuguese giants. A kid called Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Red Devils a torrid time, especially O’Shea.

The story goes that the United players trotted into their dressing room and demanded Ferguson sign the wonderkid on the spot.

Just three days after that friendly and United announced that they had indeed purchased the young Ronaldo in a £12.25m move (Source – BBC Sport).

Fans around Europe were left scratching their head.

Was Ferguson going to hand this kid the prestigious Number Seven shirt and have him as Beckham’s replacement?

Well we all know what happened next. Cristiano Ronaldo would go on and become a footballing legend. Alongside Lionel Messi (Ronaldinho’s successor at Barca), Cristiano is now considered an all-time great.

He might have been a bit precocious and raw in his debut season at United but everyone could see that there was a superb player in making dancing down the right wing at Old Trafford.

He would learn to do more by doing less as his career progressed. He didn’t need to keep hold of the ball for longer than was needed and he didn’t need to do trick after trick. It was better for him to set his sights on goal and create and score as many goals as possible.

Ronaldo would spend six years in Manchester. He’d play 292 games and score 118 goals. Three Premier League titles, two League Cups, an FA Cup, a Champions League winners medal and a World Club Cup followed. He’d also bag himself his first Ballon d’Or.

A huge move to Real Madrid followed, he’d spend nine years there and winning everything with Los Blancos. He would then join Juventus and win two Serie A titles in Italy.

Last summer Cristiano Ronaldo re-signed for Man United, to much greater fanfare than in 2003. He’s rejoined the club that are once again in transition just as it was back in his debut year.

Now will United see the best of Ronaldo this time around probably not, but if he can inspire the next generation then it could help the club get back to their glory years.

It’s funny how so many things lead back to that summer of 2003!

Big Game Performer Scott Brown Never Changes

Copyright –

I remember talking about Scott Brown about twelve years ago and looking at his game. He was a midfielder who couldn’t really pass the ball, who couldn’t really run with the ball, wasn’t the master of a tackle nor was he going to score lots of goals.

Now I think that review is somewhat over-exaggerated, he’s been one of the very best midfielders in Scotland’s top flight for the last fifteen years (if not longer). He possesses a war-chest full of medals and even at thirty-six years of age he can still help boss midfield battles. He’s quite clearly a good footballer.

Brown has an absolute desire to win. He knows his strengths and he plays to them.

He’s a player that the opposition players, as well as their support, hate. Scott can spot a weakness in an opponent and will exploit it. He’s a wind up merchant, he get’s into people’s faces and he brings out mistakes in others.

Plenty of Aberdeen fans were suspicious of Scott Brown’s arrival in the summer as a player/coach. Was he coming up to Pittodrie to wind down his career and not give his all?

The veteran dismissed those fears about twenty minutes into his debut. As much as opposing supporters hate Brown, those faithful that watch him play for their club week in and week out absolutely adore him as Hibs, Celtic and Dons fans will testify to. He shows a determination on the football field that is rarely matched. He can also start a fight in an empty room and usually escape from the melee unscathed.

His chief victim in his mind-game battles has undoubtedly been Rangers. The history of him winding up Gers players and fans runs deep.

Last night, he managed to gain an upper-hand once again. He was in faces, winning free-kicks and just being a pain in the arse. You can see his antics from a mile away and yet it will usually still spark a reaction. You saw him jostling with Rangers players, laughing at them and trying to help officiate the game with the referee much like a certain Barry Ferguson used to do at Ibrox back in the day.

It’s these tactics that have worked in Brown’s favour for years. He drew Ryan Kent into fouling him and then sparked a reaction, which in turn creates a buzz from Aberdeen fans in the stands and urges on his own teammates. Showing us that he does all these things for a reason or various reasons. Basically to create reactions.

On the playing side, he can take a more unassuming role in terms of sitting in front of the defence and protecting them. His real value to his team is his leadership, his determination to succeed and the experience he brings with him.

Dons boss Stephen Glass is slightly worried that his players are becoming to reliant on Brown:

“I’m almost asking the boys is the glaring omission that they need Scott to push them on, kick them and poke them and make them do it? Professionally they need to be better.”

Via Press & Journal

Don’t get me wrong, if things go against him then Scott Brown has to accept that he’ll be targeted by opponents in the same way he dishes it out. It happened more often than not during his last year at Celtic Park.

But the fact that he can still perform and succeed at this level at the age of thirty-six is testament that he is indeed a great player. A player who will happily accept that some will adore him, while others will always hate him!